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January 10, 2001


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'It is the filmmaker's duty to entertain people'

Shobha Warrier

He was a lecturer when the acting bug bit him.

So Madhu bade goodbye to teaching English in a college and started a new career in films in the early Sixties. He was perhaps the only well-educated actor in Malayalam films at the time. In those days, a career in films was not considered decent.

The major break in Madhu's career was Ramu Kariat's Chemmeen.

Even now, several decades after the film was released, Madhu is best known as the Pareekkutty of Chemmeen.

Even today, his dialogues in the film are repeated by young mimicry artistes in Kerala. The song sung picturised on Madhu (and sung by Manna Dey), Maanasa maine varoo is still hummed.

Madhu became part of the parallel cinema movement. He acted in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Swayamvaram, P N Menon's Olavum Theeravum, etc, even though he was a big hero in commercial films then.

His directorial venture, Priya, won a National Award, too.

These days, Madhu is more involved in the extremely successful Saraswathi Vidyalaya, a school that he founded in the early Nineties.

He began his career educating college students. After a career in films, he is back to imparting knowledge to children through his school.

Here, talks about Malayalam films of yesterday and today, as also an exclusive account of working in Chemmeen:

These days, I see only very few filmmakers who are creative and original in their thought.

A majority of filmmakers not only imitate good Malayalam films, but Tamil and Hindi films, too. Sadly, the films made by the few creative people are not commercially successful.

Commercial and art films have been a part of the industry from the very beginning. Very few were able to make films that are artistically and commercially successful.

This holds true for all Indian languages, too. Even Satyajit Ray could not achieve the impossible. Perhaps only Shantaram could achieve that.

If we look at Adoor Gopalakrishnan's or Aravindan's or Shaji's films, you will see that they are appreciated only by a minority. They haven't achieved commercial success.

You can't call their films 'real cinema'. The films made by these filmmakers are liked only by a small section of the audience. The films made by the commercial filmmakers, that are liked by the majority, try to exploit the weaknesses of the audience.

You may ask what, then, is good cinema?

I believe good cinema should entertain as well as enlighten viewers. How can a film that strictly follows the grammar be called a good film? How can you call a film that tries to exploit the sentiments of people a good film?

Technically, Malayalam films have improved. Subject wise, they have deteriorated a lot. Presentation wise, too, they have deteriorated.

You see only imitations. There is no originality these days.

Chemmeen was one film that was commercially as well as artistically successful.

That was the time only small budget films were made in Malayalam. New wave films had not yet entered the industry then.

Some very committed people with big ideas and big dreams joined together and were behind this film.

Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai's novel, Chemmeen, was making waves in Kerala then. Nobody, not even his enemies, could say anything against the novel. It was perfect; impeccable.

The novel was the biggest asset the group of filmmakers had with them. It had an amazing storyline, powerful characters and dramatic moments.

So Chemmeen was powerful in all aspects. The truth is, those who made the film did full justice to the great work of Thakazhi.

And that is the reason for Chemmeen's success.

Do you know why Ramu Karaiat did not release the film for six to ten months even after its completion?

He was very confident that Chemmeen would get the gold medal at the national level. Ramu watches almost all Indian films. That was why he was so confident.

He did win the National Award.

As planned, he showed it to the people of Kerala only after he collected the award.

All of us associated with the film were charged when we started the shooting. Except for a few who didn't know Malayalam, all had read the book.

I remember, as a teenager, I had read and re-read the book several times. So I felt so happy and excited when I was chosen to act in a film based on the book. I felt very, very fortunate.

I was exactly the age of Pareekkutty. So I had to only live the character. I felt exactly like an Ayyappa bhakta for the duration of the shooting.

In those days, filmmakers used to erect a set in a studio and start shooting all the scenes required for that set.

They would then erect another and start shooting again. So there would be a gap between the scenes.

Now, for the first time in the history of Malayalam cinema, all the artistes were booked for a month and taken on location -- the beach -- where all the sets were ready. So the shooting of the entire film went on without a break. We lived like a big family there.

In fact, we even shot in some of the real huts of the fishermen.

Ramu Kariat bought their dresses in exchange for new ones. So we wore all the old ones through the shooting and the fishermen wore the new ones!

I have since acted in over a 100 films, but the experience of working in Chemmeen was unique.

I did feel the same again. I felt the same intensity in all of P N Menon's films. They were all low budget films but the experience was amazingly different.

In my opinion, you see only a negative growth after Chemmeen. You cannot compare Chemmeen and Vaanaprastham because the former was seen by a vast number of people. It was appreciated by the critics, too.

Is that the case with Vaanaprastham? No.

Perhaps it would be better to compare an Aravindan or Adoor film with Vaanaprastham.

Let me tell you audience is as important an ingredient in films and plays as performers. But some filmmakers do not consider the audience an important element. That is why they find it difficult to communicate with them.

Why do people go to a theatre to watch a film? Not to study -- there are schools and colleges around for that. Not to teach people spirituality -- there are ashrams to do that.

It's the filmmaker's duty to entertain people. As also to enlighten them.

I also feel that awards cannot be looked at as a yardstick to measure the quality of films.

Who constitute the award committee? The so-called critics, friends and relatives of politicians and politicians themselves!

Do they know anything about films? The committee members are not as knowledgeable as those who make films.

If you remember, in the early days of Malayalam cinema, films were made based on the great works of literary personalities.

Were they not good? Why were they good? Because those writers were great personalities who understood people and society.

Their works were a reflection of the society.

Later, stories began to be written along the lines of the stream of consciousness thought. There were not many characters except the 'I'. There were no situations, either.

It became difficult to make films on such literary works. That was the decline of Malayalam cinema.

The best period of the Malayalam films were the mid-Fifties to the mid-Seventies.

Those days, filmmakers had something great to fall back upon -- Malayalam literature.

As were superstars. They have always been there. The problem is, today, we do not have super directors. These days, they book a superstar because he is the minimum guarantee for the commercial success of his film.


God's own films!
'Malayalam cinema's definitely growing'
'Pain drives all great creations'
'The films I consider bad win awards!'
'I love the films of the '60s and the '70s'
'Today we have only copycats'
'Cinema is both art and industry'
'We have a long way to go'
'You don't see emotion these days'

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